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Towards a New Definition of Humanity

These times of violence and conditioned hatreds are the dark blip in a very long history of cooperation.

A drumline in modern Africa. Before the invention of war about 6,000 years ago, non-lethal war games including drum battles between friendly rivals, were common.

A drumline in modern Africa. Before the invention of war about 6,000 years ago, non-lethal war games including drum battles between friendly rivals, were common.

In the aftermath of massacres there are calls for even more guns and lethal force everywhere, even in houses of worship, hospitals and schools. It is a narcissistic doctrine that feeds on the fear of deadly danger lurking within every neighbor, innocent action, foreign country and differing beliefs and finds its solution in demands that every perceived threat be violently restrained and destroyed.

The common bonds of society are rubbed raw and humanity’s long history of faith in friendship and shared goals is abandoned when enemies are everywhere.

Only 3 of the 9 million species of life engage in war and humans are less warlike than the other two - ants and chimps. Yet, humanity’s violent nature is presented as an unchallengeable doctrine by professors, preachers and politicians, on TV shows and in songs, movies and books. History, they say, is a story of power and domination in the battle for resources.

But what if this agreed upon narrative is wrong? What if humanity and even life itself began and advanced mainly through friendly cooperation and mutually beneficial trade? Let’s start at the beginning.

About 700 million years ago a severe drop in global temperatures turned tropical Earth into a slurry of ice and slush for 120 million years. Almost all life was destroyed. The survivors developed specialized functions and worked together to build more complex forms of life in which they all thrived. Sea plants colonized the barren land 450 million years ago because a beneficial fungus migrated into their roots and let them breathe air and use more sunlight. Likewise, early humanity evolved through shared knowledge and resources.

Despite what most people think, human war – as distinct from individual acts of violence - is a recent invention. According to Scientific American and other journals there is no fossil or archaeological evidence of human warfare anywhere on Earth before about 6,000 years ago. None. Prehistoric cave paintings set down between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago were the newspapers of the prehistoric world. There is no depiction of human conflict in any of them.

The few examples of prehistoric human on human violence that exist involve few people, are rare and far apart in time and geography, and there is no way of knowing intent. What does the fossil evidence and recorded history say about humanity’s original culture?

People have three kinds of relationships – friends, opponents and neutrals. If humanity were fearful there would be evidence of security systems. Yet, 3 million years of prehistoric artifacts show no war weapons and the first defensive walls around settlements are about 5,000 years old. If early humans were isolationists, our global culture of trade, language and shared technology would not have been born. Words were humanity’s first currency. They were coins minted on the tongue and only honest words were collected and shared as a language for trade and relationships.

People with freckles and red hair come from mixed human and Neanderthal families. Humans of different kinds have been present throughout history and mixing between ancestral humans was commonplace.

Between 40,000-10,000 years ago, modern humans were settling the world and spreading their civilization of paintings and symbols. The prehistoric hash tag meant “human settlement,” wavy lines indicated “water,” and hat-like ones nearby “shelter.” What was their purpose? People living in the same place had no need for those symbols. They were street signs to help prehistoric travelers find a village, stream or cave.

For 99.99 percent of history humanity existed without war. The Ancient Greeks said the evils of the world came with it. In Ancient India, that first war is chronicled in their Mahabharata. The Hebrew Bible recalls its effects in the 6,000 year-old story of Eden a tale that remembers the birth of a post-war humanity and the end of “Generation Eden” – the world before war.

Attaining peace is not something humanity needs to grope towards in the future. Neighborliness is what allowed civilization to take root and flourish. These times of violence and conditioned hatreds are the dark blip in a very long history of cooperation.

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Barry Brown

Barry Brown

Barry Brown is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated Canadian journalist and author of Humanity: The World Before Religion, War and Inequality.

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